Ascent: 974m/3,195 feet; time we took to summit – 2.5 hrs. Distance: 13.2km or 8.2miles.
Start – Rowardennan car park (£3 charge)
A beautiful mountain, seen at its best from around Luss or Ross Priory. It looks like a shark’s fin from Inverbeg and beyond. The hill’s name translates as Beacon Mountain and it makes for a great family hike as the path is so good all the way to the top – a stone staircase. The top does narrow a bit with big drop offs on one side and very steep ground on the other. No difficulty though, for most and plenty of room at the top to sit and admire the mountain panorama – from Arran to Ben Nevis – as well as Lowland vistas which include the Wallace Monument at Stirling.
I saw our climb of Ben Lomond that day, as a way of taking my mind off something which had caused real anxiety and broken sleep – my son and his wife free scrambling on Skye’s notorious, magnificent but scary Black Cuillin. The forecast all weekend was great and I just knew that that’s where they would have headed. Deliberately, they had gone incommunicado after my Whats App message of the previous night, asking casually what their plans were. No reply nearly 18 hours later ! I knew they would be edging precariously along that ridge of sharks fin rocky peaks on Skye. No paid guide either, as many hikers choose to invest in, to add a big safety margin to mountains which have recorded many fatalities and serious accidents. They had read a good scrambling guidebook instead and reckoned they could go it alone. Nightmare!!!
So with what felt like a boulder sitting in my stomach, Chris and I set out on a very warm Saturday in August, only JUST finding a parking spot.The alarm had gone off at 6am (groan, I hadn’t slept well either and it was an effort to get up and not just turn over and go back to sleep) we were away by the back of 7 and reached the car park at 8.15am.
The walk is well signposted and starts beyond the open central walkway of the visitor centre/toilets.
I managed to leave my walking poles in the loo and had a mad dash back, hoping no-one had pinched them in the time I’d taken to feed the parking meter; nowadays – no poles, no walk; I don’t think my balance would manage the downhill sections without them. Age doesn’t come alone!
There was low mist hanging around Loch Lomond but very often that means that the mountain itself is in full sunshine halfway up – a cloud inversion, very spectacular. Off we set uphill through the birch and oak woodlands on a good gravel track. This woodland section took us about 30 mins. Twenty five years ago when I first climbed Ben Lomond, this lower section was a bog fest! No longer. There is one minor clamber over a rough rocky area but it’s very easily done – even for me , with hips that feel like they need WD40 at times if I have to stretch or make an unusual move.
Once out of the woods, the path starts to climb more steeply but now the views open up and the path is so well done, it does take you in decent gradients uphill – still hard work though.
The view back to Loch Lomond itself was great with its myriad islands and the sweep of the Luss hills (lovely to walk too) providing a real Highland backdrop.
In late August, the moorland was already turning very golden and a reminder that my favourite time for hill walking is autumn when tawny, amber and gold colours sit beautifully against indigo blue lochs.
The hill was busy and many younger couples overtook us – super fit. Everyone is so bright and happy on a hill, so we exchanged lots of good mornings and what a magic day – ooh, that was a tough section. Climbing a mountain makes me feel glad to be alive, my senses all heightened. Mind you, by the time I’m finished these days, I can feel half dead!
Once we were above the early mist, and the sun was beating down on us, it was down to t-shirts and on with the sun hats. It was hot! Made hotter of course by the effort of the ascent. It’s great to be hiking on a sunny warm day but it does feel like harder work too – ah, never happy.
But at the 577m mark, the path flattened out, giving us a breather with a lovely relatively easy stretch across the moorland.
Ahead, lay the steeper, zig zag stone path which leads nicely onto the ridge itself. A final effort – the stone steps really do help so much – and in no time we were standing on the summit ridge where the views now opened to the Glen Falloch peaks and to Loch Ard and the Trossachs, Ben Venue and Ben Ledi. Brilliant!
A long flattish section traverses the ridge itself and takes around 10 mins to hike along, with Loch Lomond sparkling below and the Luss hills and the Arrochar Alps looking very fine.
Very beautiful. Arran was visible now, with the familiar outline of the Sleeping Warrior; the island’s stunning mountains do indeed look like a helmeted warrior , his hands resting on his chest, his body and legs spread out to the north.
One little rocky step, easily clambered down , no exposure or difficulty as such and then the final eroded stone path to the summit Trig Point.
The joy of reaching the top of a mountain! Nothing like it – achievement, awe at the surroundings and views, relief at the hardest work being over…and gammon and coleslaw sandwiches never taste so good as they do on top of a mountain.
Even over 3,000 feet up, it was very warm, though a cool breeze kept things pleasant and also chased away the surprising number of midges (non biting thankfully) flies, wasps and bees which had buzzed around the summit on my last summer visit.
Around 20 people on the summit but it’s quite a large area, so plenty space for a seat on our own and a relax.
The Cobbler – a well known peak in the Arrochar Alps – drew my eye the most but the whole panorama was terrific; from Ben Vane and Ben Vorlich across Loch Lomond (on either side of the Sloy dam)
…to Ben More and Stob Binnein to the north;
Ben Lui and Ben Cruachan and even the distinctive wedge of Ben Nevis. Loch Ard and Scotland’s only lake, the Lake of Menteith were visible. Nice to see the Wallace Monument at Stirling to the east too.
Chris had thought about us descending via the Ptarmigan ridge.I had a look at the initial very steep rocky descent but though it looked safe enough , it’s a longer, rougher route back and as ever we were on a bit of a timescale with my older son coming through to stay with us at tea time.
As we left the main summit, a chap about our own age, perhaps a bit younger, was sitting on a rock on the flat section of path and said to us that his vertigo had got the better of him and he couldn’t go any further.He literally had less than a minute of walking to do, on a roomy bit of ground, rocky yes but at a mild angle – actually quite nice to walk on. I felt so sorry for him and said that I too suffered from vertigo at times (though I never imagined Ben Lomond would challenge many people with that horrible condition.) But there it was, he was staying put. I think the flat section with its very steep cliffs on one side and steep ground on the other, had unnerved him a bit; and with people coming and going in each direction, there was a need to step aside at some points on that final section.
As it often does, it felt a LONG way down on the descent and sure enough, the legs were starting to feel a bit shaky and weary from the effort by the time we reached the forest. The heat was significant now too, so that can be quite exhausting as well as leading to feet boiling inside heavy leather boots.
A fine day on a beautiful hill which, as hills tend to do, brought out the best in those we met. The temporary camaraderie of the mountains is a joyful thing, when everyone’s cares and worries seem to sink – for a few precious hours – into perspective and the lowly, tiny part we play in this world is more clearly appreciated. I often think that it’s a privilege to be able to stand on the top of a mountain, something recognised since time immemorial.
Was King David, in Biblical times, a lover of the mountains? In Psalm 121 he says:
‘I to the hills will lift mine eyes
From whence cometh my help…’
Halfway down Ben Lomond, my phone pinged – it was my younger son and his wife, sending me photos of their stunning traverse of some of the hardest peaks in the UK, the Black Cuillin – including one from the top of the notorious Inaccessible Pinnacle. Great relief all round, although our own expedition on this benign, softer mountain had calmed my nerves of earlier. My mental health is definitely improved by climbing hills and the ‘high’ of a hike can last for several days.
A grand mountain, welcoming and friendly. We’ll be back (I hope.)
(Note: full hillwalking kit should be taken for Ben Lomond….waterproofs, warm mid layer, good boots (though on a hot summer’s day most younger people seem to go up in trainers), hat/gloves etc. Ben Lomond is 974 metres or nearly 3,200 feet and every one of those is climbed, as it’s an almost sea level start. Temperatures at the top are around 10C lower than at sea/ground level and substantially colder again if there is a wind.